A comprehensive list of things to look for when checking out a conference hotel for your meeting or event. By Helen Van Dongen, December 03, 2010
Assuming your search was based on clear meeting objectives (to educate, motivate, facilitate networking, etc.), a defi ned budget, and knowledge of your prospective participants (be they budget-conscious, sophisticated travellers, Boomer women or Gen X men, etc.), and included full and accurate information about the meeting space and guestrooms required, and assuming you know to look at the cleanliness, repair and service levels of the venue staff, your site inspection will allow you to focus on considerations like the following:
- Meeting-space layout. Does it allow for a traffic flow that suits your programme?
- Location of freight elevator or loading dock in relation to your space.
- Groups who need to be separated for part of the programme. Having breakout rooms in different areas of the hotel will work for you. If you want to minimize the time it takes to move people from general session to lunch, rooms on different floors will make your job harder.
- Meeting-space flexibility. A ballroom that can divide into breakout rooms? A pre-function space that can serve for registration in the morning, and a cocktail reception that night?
- Multiple options for meals and networking functions. A pool deck (in- or outdoor), garden or porte cochere can be repurposed for receptions. Are there natural lounge or gathering spaces in the public areas of the property that will allow people to connect and exchange during breaks or downtimes at your meeting?
- Accommodating programme changes as your event date approaches. Are there additional meeting rooms you might be able to add, if your a endance grows? Is the hotel sold out over your dates, or is there capacity for expanding your room block?
- Meeting-room lighting levels / HVAC adjustability by you, or by engineering? Will in-house sound handle your needs or do you need to bring in equipment?
- Location of your on-site office. Is there a business centre in the venue? What are its hours and location? Does it offer the services—and the volume— you expect during your event?
- Telephone location/service. Pay phones? House phones? What is cellular phone coverage like in the areas of the building your space will be in? If you have participants with mobility concerns, will your space—and access to it—accommodate them? Also important is the location of on-site washrooms.
- Other groups on-site during your dates. Where is their space located in relation to yours? Will your registration desk or breaks share space with theirs? Does that present competitive or confidentiality concerns? If any of your meeting rooms will have airwalls installed, what will be happening on the other side? Could noise be a problem for your group?
- Arranging group transfers to off-site events. Where will the coaches stage? Is there sufficient space for participants to gather (sheltered from the weather, if that’s a concern), load and unload? Will there be restrictions on the placement, dimensions or display of signage during your meeting?
- Qualified first aid or medical staff on property. Are there AED devices installed? Is there an emergency plan in place?
- Hotel unions. Is the host hotel unionized? If so, when will the current contract expire? How are relations between management and the union(s)?
- Amenities required by your programme participants. Do the guestrooms and/or meeting space have wired or wireless Internet capability? Safes? Is there a fi tness facility? An ATM? Is room service 24-hour? Your arrival and departure pattern may make that important.
- The venue’s neighbourhood. Do you need to have restaurant or entertainment options nearby? Is safety a concern? How close is the nearest hospital or emergency clinic? Should you consider ease of access from transportation hubs (airports, train stations, etc.) for arriving participants? Will there be new building or road construction in the area at the time of your event? If you’ve not worked in the destination before, are there festivals or public holidays on or around your event dates?
— Guest columnist Helen Van Dongen is director and head, global conference planning, RBC Capital Markets, based in Toronto. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org